1.21 Jigowatts!!!

Back to the Future picture by F1RSTBORNYes, it's time to hop in the DeLorean and take a trip down memory lane. I didn't have a blog back in the magical year that was 2007, so I had to contend myself with simply emailing my friends and neighbors my "best of 2007" list. At least my friend Zack was clever enough to mail people an actual CD of his favorite songs. I have to use the stupid Internet.

Anyway, I figured it was time to share my list with the world. This playlist (created over at imeem, which I'm still using despite some reservations) represents my favorite song from each of my favorite albums of 2007. There are a couple albums that have since become favorites (LCD Soundsystem, I'm looking at you) but I'm only posting ones that were actual favorites when the big ball dropped on New Year's Eve. Enjoy!

The playlist:

The albums:

By the way, check out those hot little icons next to the links in some of my other posts (they would be next to the album links above, but the Amazon quick-link script interferes with it). I just installed AdaptiveBlue's SmartLinks [Editor's note: more CamelCase!] and I think they're pretty cool. Let me know what you think.

What were your favorites of 2007? Any upcoming faves of 2008?

PS I'm as surprised as you guys not to see any hip hop on this list. I just wasn't blown away by the new Wu-Tang, the new Jay-Z, the new Ghostface, or the new Lupe Fiasco albums.


imeem: Not Ready For Prime Time

imeem logoDo you like usability issues and short-sighted business models? Then I have a site for you: imeem. The site's tagline is "what's on your playlist?" My answer: hard to say, since your upload feature is broken, my playlist is hard to find, and the streaming seems to only work dependably in IE. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I've been looking for a tool to use to stream tracks on this blog. I found a flash-based one that was pretty cool, but ugly and a bit clunky. Plus, it only handles one track at a time. So I turned to imeem, which has been getting some positive press of late for striking deals with Sony, EMI, and Warner for streaming rights to their artists (the companies share in a portion of the site's ad revenue based on which tracks you stream). Read all about it here.

It's supposed to work like this: 1) You upload a track to imeem. 2) Using Snocap, which imeem acquired not too long ago, the site checks the "audio fingerprint" of your track, and makes sure it's on the approved artist list. 3) The track is now added to your profile, and shareable/streamable by everyone. Awesome.

Here's how it worked for me: 1) I tried to use their "upload multiple tracks" feature about 5 times. 2) It kept stopping in the middle of the upload for some reason. 3) When I finally got my tracks on there, I could only play them in IE. Not awesome at all. In addition to tech problems, the process of creating a playlist (ostensibly the purpose for the whole site) is painful. You have to find your song, click on the song's page (can't add to a playlist from the search results for some reason), have the song auto-start, click the playlist button, then choose the playlist to which you want to add the song. Oh, and good luck finding your playlist once you've made it. It's buried in your profile somewhere, and you will be thwarted at all attempts to get to it in fewer than 4 clicks.

I think my least favorite part of the whole experience was when I turned to their forums for help with my issues. A ton of people have had the problems I described. So what do they do? Fix those problems? Ha! Sure, and then they handed out free lollipops and walked my dog for me. No, instead of solving their tech issues, the good people at imeem post responses to the forums (always under the same user name) peppering the poor besotted user with a metric shit-tonne of stupid first-tier tech support questions (always the same questions) designed to make the user think they probably did something wrong by trying to use the site on a PC via a web browser. Yes, it happens on every computer I use. Yes, it happens when I connect from a different IP address. Yes, your fucking site is fucking broken regardless of whether or not it rained last night. Just fix your shit!

Sorry. It's been a long week. Next up: I try to embed an imeem playlist in a post! Stay tuned for hilarity.

Anyone have any other experiences with this site?

UPDATE, 2/24/08, 5:50 PM: An anonymous commenter claiming to work at imeem (I say "claiming" only because this person is anonymous so I can't say for sure, but I have no reason not to believe him or her) just told me about a new playlist creation feature over at imeem. Review to follow! I'm keeping my fingers crossed, I would really love to have found the tool I can use from now on to post playlists to this blog. I know both of my readers are waiting with baited breath.


mc chris Ain't Nuthing ta Fuck Wit

mc chris, picture by CrystalzillaIf you've ever found yourself listening to Dan Deacon or Girl Talk, and thought to yourself, "wow, this is great, but I really wish that some short dude with an impossibly nasal, high-pitched voice was rapping about Star Wars or marijuana over top of it," then mc chris is for you.

In addition to being considered the Godfather of nerdcore, mc chris is also a featured voice on the greatest/weirdest cartoon of all time, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, as well as many other Adult Swim shows, thus making him a hero in my eyes.

I've heard him before, but I have to admit, I didn't really "get" mc chris until I saw him perform last night at the Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC as part of the Dirty South Improv Festival. (I'm down here with my improv troupe JINX to help represent DC to the state where I once met a smiling presidential hopeful named John Edwards. Ah, happier times.) Watching MC, as he's known to the hip kids, it was obvious that he was having the time of his life up on that stage, performing for a bunch of improvisers and whacked-out college kids who actually knew the words to his songs and were there to see him, not some headlining act. He put his heart into it, rapped like a pro, and told some great stories about life on the road. Even if everyone that came to the show with me left after about 4 songs, I had a blast. Props to my friend Nate for being on the mc chris bandwagon before it was cool.

For your listening pleasure: Fett's Vette off his album "Life's a Bitch and I'm Her Pimp":


Don't change for me. Better yet, do change for me.

What if you had the chance to take something good and make it great? Or to take something great and make it totally super awesome? Would you do it? Yes, of course you would! What kind of stupid question is that? Anyway, that brings me to today's topic: remixes. Putting aside those dark days in the late 90s when it was considered de rigueur to put out a "dance remix" of whatever shitty song was hot at the moment, remixes can actually be a pretty cool way to experience a song. They let you experience an artist's take on another artist's music, often with far more interesting results than you'd get by just hearing a cover version. Remixes, in fact, can sometimes turn out...dare I say it?...better than the original song. [Pause for effect.]

Yes, I said it: there are several songs where I think the original is decent, but the remix is art. Take for example "Presidential Suite" by Super Furry Animals. It's a pretty song. It has a nice acoustic guitar intro, the French horn (or whatever that is) is very pretty, and the lyrics are brilliant (featuring the classic line "Do we need to know if he really came inside her mouth?"). But overall I find it a bit overproduced and a little on the boring side. One reviewer on Amazon referred to it as a "tedious cabaret," and that sounds about right to me. Now dig on this here remix by Phat Eric. [Editor's note: I'm using some experimental Flash-based MP3 embedder doohicky I found somewhere, please let me know if it blows up your computer or tries to trick you into playing a game of thermonuclear war.]

Those strings at the beginning are a promising start. And it only gets better. That crazy laugh track (anyone know what that's from? I'd love to find out) lets you know you're in for a weird time. The new drum beat keeps things moving, and the exposed bass line provides a really nice counterpoint to the crispness of that electric snare drum. And the rap sections make it sound like this could have been a rap song on its own, having nothing to do with the "tedious cabaret." I think this is a great remix because it stands alone - it's a great song even if you've never heard the original, and it's much more interesting to listen to (to my ears, anyway) than the original. Take that, Super Furry Animals! Let that be a lesson to all your little Welsh buddies, too!

I have to say, I feel guilty about liking a remixed version better than the original song. It seems like I'm dishonoring the artist by essentially telling them "what you did was fine, but what someone else did with what you did was brilliant." I guess I need to get over that and accept our modern world with its Web 2.0s and its mashups and its other pointless bullshit, and just enjoy the music. Still, it's hard for me when I love the original version of a song, yet I find I love the remix even more. Take for example M.I.A.'s unbelievably addictive "Paper Planes":

Best of use a cash register since Pink Floyd exposed the downside of being rich in "Money" back in 1973. In fact, I would call this song "totally awesome." But the remix blows me away (even though it has some weird thing where the whole song shifts up about a half-step at around 0:13):

You should fast forward a bit, the first minute or so doesn't sound different at all. But then it suddenly becomes a different, vastly cooler song. With all due respect to the original, this version just kicks more ass. Which makes it Jordan's Lock 'O' The Week, for you bettors out there. And with that, I'll close by saying that I've always wanted to know how to remix a song. There's a bunch of songs I'd love to play with, but I have no idea what kind of software is involved. Anyone care to point me in the right direction? I'd be much obliged.

So, what remixes do you like? Are there any that eclipse the original song for you? Do you know any remix versions better than the originals?


The Long and Winding Road

I have a lot of ways of finding about new music, many of which I plan to blog about here in future posts. But I think my favorite methods are the old-fashioned ones, like hearing about a great band from someone, or just seeing a show of a band I've never heard of before. I learned about Baby Dayliner that way, by seeing him open for The National a couple years ago at the Black Cat. This bizarrely tall dude running around the stage like a madman while his laptop dropped mad synth-pop beats behind him totally blew my mind. I don't know how the hell I would have heard of this guy had I not seen him live.

My favorite tale of finding a band through personal experience actually involves 2 shows, 3 bands, 1 week in New York, and a brother's love. For my 30th birthday [Editor's note: when the fuck did I get so old?], my amazing wife took me to live in New York for a week. We rented a cute little basement apartment on the Upper West side and had a great week spending all our money in the big city. One day, I got the hankering (as I often do) to go see some live music. So I asked my friend Zack if he knew of any cool bands coming to NY, or any cool venues at which to go see live music. Zack's usually good for that sort of thing. Well, this time he surprised me by telling me that his brother's band Sono Oto was going to be playing live at Pianos, a very hip place on the Lower East Side. Finally, a chance to see my friend's brother's band play live, and visit one of the hippest spots in Gotham, all on a weeknight! 3 birds, 1 stone, I'm there. So off we went.

Here's the part where I have to confess that I did not really like Sono Oto's set. My friend's brother did a very good job on the keyboards and vocals and the guitarist was great, and all the songs were fine...but to my ears they all sounded a little too similar to each other, and a little too much like Paul McCartney "lite." After the show, despite the fact that neither of us were all that into it, my wife and I each paid full price for a CD. Such is the cost of friendship. [Editor's note: the CD - "The Apple EP" - is actually surprisingly great, very catchy, and full of great pop songwriting. Shows what I know.]

OK, so maybe the main act was a bust for me. But here's the cool part. One of the opening acts (which were all hand-picked by Sono Oto since they were the artist-in-residence at Bryan ScaryPianos that week) was a band by the name of Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears. Wow. I don't really know how to describe their set, other than: ridiculous (in an awesome way). There's a whole bunch of guys in this band, and they all dress up in weird old-timey mortician outfits (more or less) and play these insanely creative songs that would sound like the result of a jam session featuring ELO, Queen, Yes, and a bunch of other bands no one's listening to nowadays. My favorite part is the way that they can go through 5 different influences in the course of a 4-minute song. We were blown away. Oddly enough, neither of us bought a CD, I think because we were still in shock from their set. I bought their album later, though, and have yet to listen to it and get bored.

A robot"Well," we said to each other, "that was totally cool and strange, but we'll never see these fellows again." How short-sighted we were! Ah, but we were just children then. I'm almost 31 now. More to the point, some months later, I learned via tourfilter that Mr. Scary and the Tears were coming to the back room of our very own Black Cat. We also saw that some opening act was coming, some band I'd never heard of from Seattle named Head Like A Kite. Despite the fact that the Black Cat's web site referred to them as "creating lush indie-pop soundscapes" or some bullshit like that, we decided we'd show up early, drink some beer, and check out these lush soundscape creators. As you can imagine since I'm spending so much time building up to this part, we loved them. Well, I loved them - can't speak for the missus. They used a vocoder! (Not the one pictured on wikipedia, some sort of modern one - but still, any time it sounds like a robot's singing, I'm on board). The band is 2 guys + a bunch of old home movies. They make really cool music that does indeed border on lush indie soundscapes at times. But that's not the point. The point is, I never would have bought their album Random Portraits of the Home Movie and become a big fan of theirs had I not emailed my friend Zack months before and asked "so, where do you go see live music in Manhattan?" And the rest, as they say, is history.

For your listening pleasure:

So, how do you go about finding new music? Were you ever surprised by an opening act and turned into a fan?

PS By the way, Bryan Scary didn't disappoint at that Black Cat show, even though they played to a crowd of no more than 20 people. And the beer was delicious.


J'accuse, Caribou!

OK, let's talk psychedelic pop for a second. If you're not listening to Caribou yet, stop whatever you're doing and go take a beautiful trip with Dan Snaith through his (I hate to describe it this way but I'm not creative enough to do better right now) lush soundscapes. If you like early Pink Floyd (real early), you'll love this guy. And even if you don't, you should still listen to Caribou (see also: Manitoba). I love this guy, I love his music, I love seeing him live, and now I have to strike him down for being a dirty little thief.

Check out "Desiree," a beautiful
[Editor's note: time to hit the thesaurus, I'm repeating my adjectives] track off one of my favorite albums of 2007, Caribou's "Andorra." At around 1:23, he busts out this gorgeous chorus consisting of the second, fifth, and major third of the root chord, in that order. 2-5-3. Just like Mom used to make. Isn't it nice and harmonious (thanks, thesaurus.com!)? Yes. Yes, it is.

'There's something very familiar about all this.'Now prepare yourself to be shocked, and possibly horrified. When you're ready, click on this: "Changes" by the Zombies, from their 1968 album "Odessey & Oracle." [Editor's note: yes, it's spelled like that.] No, your ears aren't crazy. Dan Snaith has achieved the impossible and time-travelled all the way to 1968 to steal this little ditty. Wno knows? Maybe he bet on sporting events for the next 40 years and is currently an evil billionaire, menacing the poor McFly family even as we speak! Oh, the horror! He thought he could just move the whole thing up a whole step and nobody would notice? For shame, sir. For shame.

So, what do you think is the most notorious musical rip-off of all time?

PS Do yourself a favor and go listen to "Care of Cell 44" off that same Zombies album. I know it sounds like the Beach Boys in the background, but it's really a bunch of flesh-eating ghouls, out for brains. Get it? Zombies? Eh?


Who's in the mood to dance? I am.

I've been pondering how to start this blog, and I finally decided to put aside the question of "am I important/knowledgeable/interesting/sexy enough to blog about music?" and just start writing about things I like. So here we go. [Note: no need to answer the question above...I'll figure it out eventually.]

So this week I've been listening pretty much non-stop to music that would make me want to dance, if I was the type of person (I'm not) who would ever actually get up and start dancing to music that made me want to do so. The good news for my pride is that despite the killer beats, the 2 songs that have been making me the most dance-crazy (I believe the Brazilians call this "lambada on the brain") are both by indie rock bands! Phew. My street cred almost took a serious hit there.

So, do you need some cheering up? Are you ready to start this party while you rock that body? If so, start with "One Pure Thought" by Hot Chip, off their album "Made In The Dark." Ignore the opening 32 bars or so, that mopiness is just to rope in the indie kids. Once you're roped in, keep an eye on your feet. If they start tapping spontaneously, you're listening to it right. At around 49 seconds in, they drop one of the catchiest, most repetitive choruses I've heard since the Macarena (which they actually reference at about 1:29). I find it's nearly impossible to stay in a bad mood when I'm listening to this song. I'll leave it to Pitchfork to tell you why the album is great or terrible or why you would be so much cooler if you'd been listening to them for 5 years already and how they've already peaked and how really if you like them you should know they're just ripping off these 8 bands you've never heard of, and just say that I think this album is great. This song in particular is a blast, and I defy you not to turn that frown upside-down by the time it's over.

Still in a funk? Life got you down? Depressed that Kucinich, Edwards,
Never stop in the middle of a ho-down!Richardson, and all your other "you're voting for who?" candidates are out of the race? Try this on for size: "No Satisfaction" by Black Mountain, off their 2005 album "Black Mountain." This song makes me want to dance, but more in a ho-down kind of way. Not like "G's up, ho's down," more like Lisa Simpson blowing into the mouth of a liquor jug. I mean, check out the beard on that one dude. You know he knows how to trap a raccoon and fry it up with a side of moonshine. And even if he doesn't, that's OK because his band is awesome. While you're here, check out track 1, "Modern Music," to hear the best song that Lou Reed never wrote. For some reason this one makes me want to dance too, and even sing along. Maybe it's just me, but this shit cheers me up like a cupcake in a rainstorm. [Editor's note: wtf does that mean?]

Do we have time for one more? OK, my producer's telling me that we do. So let's talk about LCD Soundsystem. After winning me over a few years back with the brilliant track "Daft Punk Is Playing At My House," I promptly forgot about them for the next several years. That is, until Pitchfork's Top 100 Tracks of 2007 featured 2 awesome songs from their latest album. My personal favorite is "All My Friends." Though "Someone Great" is also fantastic, if a bit more of a downer. They both feature something I love in music, which is a droning repetetive background that never really varies (no, I'm serious). Underworld made me a fan through this technique. Maybe it's my brain chemistry, but I just find that sort of thing simultaneously relaxing and stimulating, like a massage chair.

Anyhoo, that's all for now. Thanks for reading/listening/whatever. Before you go, take a moment and post a comment about what makes you dance. What do you listen to that just makes you move your feet, bob your head rhythmically, and occasionally jump up and down?